Suffice it to say these are among the busiest two weeks of my life — and in many ways, the best. I’m working hard on the California No On Prop 8 Web Strategy team. These days, I encounter stories of unbelievable courage and strength as an everyday matter of course. People are working in constant overtime to get the stories out. I work with a great diversity of beautiful people crammed together in a noisy space, every one of us working without pause, very hard. And my bride Leanne worked heroically today in the middle of a way-too-busy day to get out a post about the seemingly amazing superhero powers endowed to us, by virtue of our recent wedding, by the proponents of Prop 8. Then I come home to a story of how my parents returned from a trip to see No On Prop 8 signs — in Vacaville! — and are eager to let me know.
And then, from people I don’t even know, amazing stories hit me every day during this campaign — some are shocking and some are intensely saddening, but most inspire me — and some truly warm my heart. I have been privileged to share some deeply personal stories.
Last Saturday, Tweeter @arwilson sent the following in response to a Twitter-based request from @NoOnProp8 to share what people were doing to defeat the proposition:
Intrigued, I wrote back and commended this person for a brave stand. He wrote back:
I’m a recovered homophobe (20+ years!) and I know what worked to help me overcome it.
What followed was a private conversation by direct message, and soon an in-depth email exchange. He very generously shared his story, and gave me permission to blog about it — so I quote him, Anthony Wilson — below. Tony called it an honor to share his story in case it could help someone somewhere.
We all could be Tony. Honest and brave are the people who challenge themselves beyond prejudice. Far from always successful, in my best days, I aspire to this. Thank you Tony for shedding light on your journey through — and past — this particular fear and prejudice. I ask anyone reading to do an inventory in honor of Tony’s sharing: Is there a bit of his story that resonates with you?
My mentor’s name was Del. When I was about 16, he and his wife took me under their wing. Through them I met lots of interesting people who were so generous to me and encouraged me to be my own person. I was very eccentric and was called a fag more than once. I couldn’t afford trendy clothes, so I “borrowed” old clothes from the drama department. Today I would have been called a cool Rockabilly kid, but at the time I was considered a freak, so I took the easy route and gave it as good as I got it. Shit rolls downhill, and I lashed out at anybody who seemed more vulnerable than me. Del was doing my makeup before a play (the irony was lost on me at the time) and I had mentioned something about “dumb fags.” He didn’t judge or condemn me, but he just asked me why I had such a problem with them. He mentioned that a lot of my friends that I had met through his wife and him were gay and that I liked them. He kept asking “why?” and I didn’t have an explanation. I then realized that my response to people treating me poorly because I insisted on being myself was to harass others who were trying to be themselves. I was helping out the wrong people. It was OK that I knew gay people, and I should be allowed to do so. I guess I thought that people would think I was gay if I had gay friends. I soon realized that I didn’t care what people thought. My parents had never condemned anybody, so I really had no excuse.
Del was a closeted gay man and fell victim to the first wave of “gay cancer” in the 80s. Even after I realized what was going on, his wife was in denial. After suffering massive medical costs and the condemnation of his family, he passed away. This had a profound affect on me, and I realized that homophobia was partly responsible for his death. If he could have lived the way he wanted, things might have worked out differently. Homophobia is responsible for so many of the world’s problems if you think about it. How many wars, how many violent crimes, how many people are denied their right to happiness by people who have some weird agenda. This epiphany taught me the true meaning of homophobia – as we all have seen in the last few years, the more you condemn it, the better the chances that you are doing it.
I can’t tell you how liberating it is to not give a shit what people do with their lives. It’s none of my business. Well, it was none of my business, but I want to do what I can to help anybody who needs it. I have lost friends to AIDS, I have seen friends denied rights because they were not legally recognized as partners; when a friend’s
partner was in a coma dying in the hospital, his partner’s parents would not let him visit. My wife and I have closeted and openly gay members of our family – I have gay friends who have been with their partners longer than I have been with my wife. They’re here and they’re queer and I got used to it! We live in Orange County, so it’s not the most open-minded place, but our daughters have been raised to understand that homosexuality is a non-issue. As a junior high teacher, I see kids who were like me, and I remember how Del approached it. Because of him, I am who I am today, and I want others to have that same choice.